Peter Jackson Used the Hero's Journey to Tell The Beatles' Story for the Movie 'Get Back'
All 12 elements of the Christopher Vogler version of the HJ are there.
I learned about novel writing in a three-year program at Southern Methodist University. There I learned how to use Christopher Vogler’s version of the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero's Journey is not a formula. Instead, the 12-factors are what many view as critical elements in storytelling. They appear in almost every story, novel, TV show, and movie you’ve ever seen.
When Peter Jackson told The Beatles' 'Get Back' story, he used the Hero's Journey structure. He did not present the video like the High-8 classic family home videos shot by your dad.
Jackson stuck with a tried and true structure. He followed the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero's Journey begins: Ordinary world
For much of their eight-year career, The Beatles recorded at EMI Studios on Abbey Road. It is their ordinary world. One that led to the recording of 200 songs, many of which changed music forever.
But for the "Get Back" sessions, they moved to a voluminous sound stage instead. From the beginning, one of the first things George Harrison mentions is the bad acoustics.
Call to adventure
Right from the beginning, we learn the nature of their call to adventure. The intent is to make a new movie.
One where the Fab Four are creating new material. Songs they wanted to play in a grand theater somewhere in the world. What few knew at the time, even themselves, this was close to the end.
Some of their last recorded music as a band came from these sessions. So to fans around the world, the thought of seeing how to make their music is intriguing.
The film hastens between the call to action. Refusals. Meeting with mentors—their career-long producer, George Martin in particular. Martin, who is not credited for producing the lads.
Crossing the threshold; Tests, allies, and enemies
After crossing the threshold into a new recording studio, The Beatles face a new series of tests. The different facility has flaws. The band must get used to the cameras being on almost all the time.
They discover who their real friends are. For instance, George brought a Hare Krishna believer with him. The one John Lennon said, "Who's that little old man, one of the Hare Krishnas or something?”
The Beatles must also figure out who and what is working against them. Who they themselves have become.
Approaching the innermost cave
Eventually, The Beatles agree to move to their Apple studios. This has its own levels of tests, allies, and enemies. Their basement studio is them entering the innermost cave.
As with all good stories, The Beatles hit rock bottom. George Harrison says F*** it! He leaves his three mates. This leaves the group with no hope of proceeding without big changes in how they operate.
The film the remaining three Beatles while they deal with their Supreme Ordeal. This is always the point where if nothing changes, the story does not go on.
At one point Ringo and Paul sit in directors' chairs lamenting the situation. Both men fight back tears. The forces around them have proven stronger than the core of the Fab Four.
When John & Yoko show up, there is further commiseration, and they call George and ask for a meeting at his house. No cameras.
The road back--They're on their way home...
Once the boys reach some agreements, they return to the Apple studio.
Billy Preston joins them. George later says Billy's presence kept some egos, Paul’s, in check. As George remarked later, “everyone was suddenly on their best behavior.”
So, they have a plan of attack.
The Resurrection is in full bloom when the boys play their last concert together, on their own terms
The Fab Four played their last public concert ever, on the rooftop of the Apple Studios building. One where “PC 31” reports he’s “caught a dirty one,” and it’s The Beatles, on the roof, and we can’t get up there.
Alas, the songs for the Let It Be album get recorded, with the benefit of the ones recorded on the rooftop.
Structure, not a formula
I've talked with many a published writer since Ausut of 2014 when I joined the program at SMU.
In workshops, forums, and emails, most have said they didn't know what I was talking about. In fact, without searching online or via YouTube, few writers mention the framework.
Whether they admit it or not, most stories follow this structure. There are some who refuse to work with the HJ. They claim to have an outline or write by the seat of their pants. Thus, making their story up as the characters progress on their own.
Writing a novel requires excruciating mental work. WORK.
How many people do you know who run a successful business without a plan?